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Nairobi: where did it all go wrong?

Mark Anslow

24th November, 2006

Having enjoyed brief media coverage, world attention towards climate change during the last few weeks did not end with a bang. Instead, it fizzled out, bogged down in international policy and technicalities at the UN Climate Change Conference in Nairobi last week. Why?

Who was there?

5,900 participants, including representatives from the G-77 countries and China, the media and members of NGOs.

What was on the agenda?

The conference was called to consult on the details of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol. On the agenda were notably the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and the Joint Implementation (JI) initiative, both schemes through which industrialised countries can pay for emissions-reduction projects in developing countries.

What were the main sticking points?

Shoring up the shores

A major source of disagreement was the emphasis placed on warding off climate-change (mitigation), as opposed to dealing with its effects (adaptation). So whilst investment in wind power would be seen as climate change mitigation, adding a few feet to the sea wall would constitute adaptation. The US and the EU pushed strongly for progress on the mitigation side, whereas developing nations (including China), conscious that in many cases they will be the first the rue the effects of global warming, felt that emphasis on adaptation was equally, if not more, important. In particular, several developing countries argued that a fund for adaptation measures should not be administered by the Global Environmental Facility, a source of climate change finance which is heavily ‘steered’ by the G8 nations. One of the successes of the conference was the creation of a new ‘Adaptation Fund’, to be bank-rolled by proceeds from the Clean Development Mechanism, although the question of exactly who was to be writing the cheques was postponed until a later meeting.


A body known as the Expert Group on Technology Transfer (EGTT) has long existed to help disseminate emission-reducing technologies around the globe. Ghana opened the debate on the EGTT by proposing a wholly new body, the Technology Development and Transfer Board (TDTB). This was more than a name change. The body they proposed would include a fund which would be used to buy intellectual property rights, and it would monitor the progress of technology dissemination. The industrialised nations, clearly seeing the loss of billions of dollars in patent payments, baulked at this idea. They suggested merely ‘strengthening’ the existing EGTT. The debate rumbled on, until the Chairman warned that unless a decision was reached there would be a gap in the technology transfer system for a year. In the face of this, Ghana and the G-77 had to back down and accept the continuation of the EGTT for another year.

Burying issues

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) - the system of capturing carbon dioxide from the exhaust of power stations and burying it underground - prompted some interesting global wranglings. The EU, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Canada, Norway and South Africa were keen for CCS to be included in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), so that carbon capture projects in developing countries could be funded by industrialised nations. But Brazil feared that such projects, which were beyond the scale of the original designs of the CDM, would skew the funding reserves and result in other deserving projects being “crowded out”.

Protecting interests

With a clear eye on their supertankers, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait tried to have an item on the emissions from maritime and aviation transport fuels removed from the agenda. They were opposed by the EU, Japan and Norway, but China stood cautiously by its Middle Eastern allies and its export interests, suggesting that any measures on such fuels should apply only to Annex I countries (countries that were members of the OECD - Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development - in 1992, plus countries with economies in transition).

Who’s paying?

But perhaps the oldest and most pervasive disagreement of the conference concerned the amount of responsibility to be shouldered by developed nations. On behalf of the G-77/China group of nations, South Africa argued that developed countries should take steps to ‘cap’ their emissions of carbon dioxide before expecting the developing world to follow suit. The latter should, South Africa said, be “empowered” to do so. Despite positive mumurings from Germany over hopes for a 30% EU-wide emissions cut by 2020 (and a pledge to reduce its own national emissions by 40%), the US were on hand to warn that climate change objectives should be better linked with “more immediate” socioeconomic goals. The debate was enough to cause India to denounce the calls of Annex I countries for emissions cuts in the developing world as “shrill,” “surreal,” and a threat to efforts being made to relieve global poverty.

Fly me to the moon…

The Kyoto protocol was, off the record, seen to be utterly inadequate. When asked whether the 5% emissions reduction target required by the protocol for industrialised countries demonstrated leadership, a delegate from a developing nation apparently commented:

“You won’t get to the moon in a Matatu,” likening the framework to the rickety, infamously arduous Kenyan buses. His words would perhaps ring true of the whole conference process.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist November 2006


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